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Digital Film - Tools you may Need

Gotta have
There is no film making tool more crucial than a good tripod.

Chose one that is as sturdy and well made as your budget permits. This is one resource, like your camera, that you will benefit from each time you make a film and school video report , (we have great Science Fair and Field Trip videos at Camp Internet).

Two words are more important than all others when looking for a tripod: fluid head. A fluid head tripod uses a system of oil and valves that provides the variable resistance you need to make a good, smooth move, without jerks at the beginning or end of the move.

Check out the design of the legs on the tripod you select. The legs will be made either of aluminun or carbon fiber.

Aluminun is most durable for regular use.

Sound is always important. If you can budget a microphone it will help expand what you can do with your videos.

At Camp Internet we use two kinds of Mics. A wireless mic made by AZDEN - " Wireless Pro". It provides a transmiter (very small) and a tiny clip on mic to attach to your main subject. You can even work with two wireless mics at the same time.

We also use a "boom" mic made by Sennheiser. This mic attaches to the top of our DV camera and gives really good sound pick up in a small room or outside.

Both mics require batteries, as does the DV camera. That means one other really important tool for good digital film making is "energy". You batteries and how you manage them can make the difference between a successful video session and one that does not work.

We use a set of three batteries - one super large one that will run for 3 hours and two batteries which will run for 1/2 hour each.

Along with the batteries we use the electrical connection provided with the camera when we are editing tape on the computer.

wide-angle lens or adapter. I still wonder why manufacturers keep making their lenses longer, narrower, and less useful, when the best way to make a shooter love a lens is to make it wide enough to record what's happening in the same room as the camera.

Lenses aren't cheap, and neither is getting a lens fixed. The cheapest insurance you can get for a lens is a glass ultraviolet (UV) filter, which you leave on the lens at all times, lest a scratch sully the front element of your expensive lens. A UV filter should be less than $30-a necessary accessory that doesn't break the bank.

Speaking of breaking, the quickest way to break your camera is to toss it in and out of cars without a good soft case around it. Kangaroo, Kata, and Porta-Brace make excellent video camera bags that cost $150 to $350, but there are many al ternatives. For example, I keep my big cameras in expensive bags, but I haul my Canon Elura around in a Case Logic bag I got for $25. And if you want to be inconspicuous, there are good alternatives to the high-priced bags. On a recent trip to Africa, I outfitted teachers with Canon GL1 cameras and bike-messenger bags to carry them in. Backpacks can also be modified to make a useful camera-carrying solution. In any event, you must have something. How much you want to pay depends on your budget, protection, and convenience needs.

This is just some of what Johnson takes with him on location. The $8 purple collapsable rolling tote makes hauling all his gear less of a burden.

Oughta have
Beyond the essentials, a couple of other items will make your camera-operating life easier. I mentioned the UV filter before. As Dave Kapoor details in "Filters for Digital Cameras," several other filters can make a positive difference in your video. If you shoot outdoors a lot, a circular polarizing filter can work several types of magic, including diminishing unwanted reflections, allowing the camera to see underwater and making the sky an unbelievably gorgeous shade of blue. Diffusion filters adjust both the contrast and softness of your shot. And, finally, if your camera or lens isn't equipped with a neutral density filter, you will have to carry one or two with you to help reduce the light and depth of field in overbright situations.

In a perfect world, it never rains on our shoots. Well, it isn't a perfect world. You can use a garbage bag if you like, but that has the disadvantages of being unsuitable for the job, looking truly unprofessional, and falling apart in a few minutes. Spend $100 to $300 to get a camera raincoat made specifically for your model camera. Kata and Porta-Brace are two brands to look for.

If you don't own some sort of multitool by now, I wonder how you get through the day. Although the Leatherman is widely renown as the original, there are dozens on the market now, each with a dazzling array of features to make life on the road easier. Look for one with a good Phillips-head screwdriver and the ability to lock the tool in place; some of the knives are sharp enough to draw blood just by looking at them. A decent multitool will cost about $50.

You'll notice I haven't mentioned lighting yet. That's the problem with a list like this: You end up trading need for cost, and a good light kit is not cheap. You can easily spend $2000 on a small kit. It's true that I wrote an article on how to light with stuff from a hardware store (Apr. '01 DV), and I stand by that article. But sometimes you must have the real thing. There are several brands to consider when you go shopping.

If at all possible, get a soft box for that light kit. Chimera, Lowel, Photoflex, and others make good soft boxes. Your light kit should also include several good, heavy-gauge extension cords; a bunch of wooden clothespins; several types of diffusion, scrims, and gels; leather gloves, and heavy-gauge aluminum foil for making irregular additions to barn doors and creating a quick reflector in the field.

Finally, I would be remiss if I failed to mention the accessory you hope you never use: insurance. This can be tricky. If you use your gear in a professional capacity, your homeowner's insurance usually will not cover equipment theft.

Specialized insurance coverage is available through many sources. One plan worth checking out is the program offered through WEVA, the Wedding and Event Videographers Association ( Also take your insurance agent out to lunch and see what she or he has to offer. Skimping on insurance can chew up any profits and can end up costing much more than any of this gear.

Some small but essential accessories include a multitool, hand mic, Sharpie, tie wraps, and white-balance card.

Camp Internet video equipment list: Fluid-head tripod
Three camera batteries
XLR audio inputs or adapter
Short shotgun mic
Two lav mics
Handheld mic
Several mic cables
Wide-angle lens or adapter
UV filter
Camera bag

Circular polarizing filter
Diffusion filters
Camera raincoat
Light kit with soft box